THE 'STAR' USHAK
by Louis Marvick
Publication Date: September 2010
Sewn hardcover, limited to 150 copies, 190 pp with end papers
Was Ellis Carstairs imagining things, or had the exsanguinated body of Professor Cuthbert somehow nourished the blood-red field of the carpet on which it was found? Fragments of manuscript and an obscure bill of sale suggested that the 'Star' Ushak might be woven with strands from an ancient carpet on which Timúr the Lame had dispatched whole hecatombs—unless Anthony Styles, Carstairs’ ingenious associate, was right, and the whole thing was just a blind. It was Styles, after all, whose opinion the Yard chiefly valued; and when he discovered the presence of an hallucinogenic dye in the carpet’s wool, he seemed to have struck on the cause of the madness that had possessed its former owners and that was beginning to creep on Carstairs himself.
But The 'Star' Ushak is Carstairs’ story, not Styles’, and the tenuousness of his grasp of reality in no way lessens the liveliness of his impressions. Deepest of these is the one he takes from Ilona Golmassian, the daughter of an Armenian rug broker implicated in Cuthbert’s death. Is she also Mado Pampanini, the elusive singer who immerses herself so completely in the spirit of the bolero that she is reported to have shed black tears at a performance of Lágrimas negras? Like Margot Lavender, the actress, and Hilda Dachstein, the daughter of a wealthy dilettante, Miss Golmassian has an unexplained connection with Emmerich Waldteufel, the sinister figure who seems to be working toward a dominion that even Timúr—even Tamburlaine the Great, as he is better known—could not achieve.
While the murder investigation is going forward with a pace and atmosphere familiar to amateurs of the fin-de-siècle thriller, a disturbing doubt presses more and more insistently on Carstairs’ mind. What he took at first for intrusions of the supernatural into the world around him begin to look instead like weaknesses or errors in the making of that world. His alarm for his sanity becomes most acute at moments when he notices small inconsistencies in his experience, for these seem to point to a thinness in the fabric, an inattention or capriciousness on the part of its creator. In the same way that Carstairs sees in the 'Star' Ushak both a textile and a portal to another world, so the reader finds her willing suspension of disbelief troubled by reminders that The 'Star' Ushak is, after all, a text meant to deceive. Can a plot of such Gordian complexity be unraveled, or must it be summarily cut by an act that would wreck the fabric of illusion?
An incredible, singular and lustrous debut in the great tradition of Théophile Gautier, Gustav Meyrink, Arthur Machen, Sax Rohmer and Aleister Crowley.
Louis Marvick received the Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 1983. His scholarly work includes Mallarmé and the Sublime, 1986, and Waking the Face that No one Is: A Study in the Musical Context of Symbolist Poetics, 2004, as well as articles on La Rochefoucauld, Fontenelle, Diderot, Proust, Max Beerbohm, and decadent aesthetics. A ghost story, "Pockets of Emptiness", is scheduled to appear in number 16 of Supernatural Tales. He is Professor of French at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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The 'Star' Ushak is a sewn hardcover book of 190 pages with endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to 150 copies.
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